Digital Professionalism Part 3: Your Online Persona & Your Employer.

This month we return to the final part of the digital professionalism series. Online I adopt what I describe as a personal or social professional identity, thus, I appear much as the same offline as on. This is a conscious decision, I believe that my academic work is driven by my views and experiences of the world, therefore to understand my work you need to understand me. In the same way I feel to work with me you need to understand what you are getting. This in turn raises two questions: What happens when your CV isn’t enough and can you be too honest. In order to consider these points I’ve drafted in a little help to consider online profiles from our employers perspectives:

My name is Fiona Denney and I am Sarah’s line manager in the Graduate School at King’s College London.  My job is to head up the researcher training and development at King’s and Sarah is employed as a member of the team to lead on using social media and developing e-learning resources.  I manage a team of 10 people who do a variety of jobs between them.  I have directly recruited nearly all of those people and I am going to comment on the employer’s perspective first from a recruitment angle and then from a line management perspective.

I think that people vastly underestimate the impression that can be given to a potential employer through their online profile and there is a tendancy to underplay the importance of an online persona in the recruitment process.  Although it doesn’t form part of the official recruitment process (which in HE is largely based on forms, interviews and presentations), many people may Google candidates they are interviewing.  Recruitment is an expensive, time-consuming and risky process for managers.  In universities, recruitment is accompanied by the need for justifications for the post and multiple sign-offs, the purpose of which is intended to reassure auditors and tax-payers that money is not being frittered away.  In addition, once a person is in post, if you’ve made a mistake and they are the wrong person, they can bring with them a complete nightmare into the workplace and may prove difficult to get rid of.  Hence the need to get it right at the beginning.

There have been a number of high-profile cases in the newspapers recently of employees who have allegedly posted insulting comments about their bosses or workplaces on Facebook or other social networking sites, supposedly forgetting that said colleagues were linked to them as friends and could see the posts.  Part of me expresses extreme surprise that people can be so stupid but I suppose the tendency is to asssume that posting things on Facebook to friends is the online equivalent of a private conversation in your living room.  Not so.  I think that if you are the least bit concerned about your job or future career, then extreme caution needs to be exercised in what your electronic “footprint” looks like and how it might be perceived by a potential employer.  And you should assume that even if it isn’t part of the formal recruitment process, in order to minimise the risk of employing the wrong person, your potential boss will at the very least do a Google search for you on the internet.  And be aware that your tweets will also come up in this search.

Once you are employed by an organisation, the issue becomes a broader one of not just whether you are the right person for the job, but whether you will enhance the reputation of the organisation you work for rather than damage it.  It may be an unpalatable truth, but a truth nonetheless, that you are required to behave professionally when you are an employee and that means not bringing the names of the organisation and colleagues / bosses into disrepute.  In addition, don’t forget that people you may have contact with for the first time through social media, may be long-term colleagues of your boss or fellow employees, so exercise caution in how you respond to comments on your blog or followers on your Twitter feed.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to express your opinion about things that you dislike or disagree with; and it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk with friends and family, sharing views in the normal course of conversation and interaction.  What it is, however, is a warning to ensure that your security settings on Facebook are as tight as they can be so that you are, literally, expressing your views ONLY to family and close friends.  And check out who knows who in your workplace before responding to online comments, which might be better dealt with face-to-face or in a private email.

Whilst this sounds restrictive, an online profile, of course, can be used to project a very professional image and the increase in users of LinkedIn, in particular, are doing just that.  The opposite of a bad image is a falsely inflated image, which can be just as damaging in terms of the recruitment process.  It is likely, however, that a falsely inflated image will be found out if good interview techniques are employed, so beware if you are claiming to be or have done something that isn’t true.

My view about online profiles is the same as my view about face-to-face networking and a motto for my life: behave with integrity – only say what you are prepared to stand by.

Dr Fiona Denney is the Co-ordinator of the Vitae London Hub and heads up the Researcher Development Unit in the Graduate School at King’s College London which provides personal, professional and career development for PhD students and post-doctoral research staff.  Fiona has worked in the UK HE sector for over 15 years and across 5 different universities in both academic and staff development roles.  She has led many training courses at a number of UK universities, has been invited to speak at several national conferences on skills development for researchers, has written a book chapter on completing and submitting a PhD and is currently co-authoring a Vitae publication on leadership development for researchers.

Sarah-Louise Quinnell

Dr. Sarah-Louise Quinnell is the E-Learning Lead Technologist for Floream Partnerships she works on a portfolio of e-learning projects in partnership with Google, International Olympic Committee and the Institute of Digital Marketing.

She is also a researcher affiliated to the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities.

All views are her own and do not necessarily represent her employer's views or policies.

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